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Jewish Journal

Anti-Israel Group Boycotts Trader Joe’s

by Lilly Fowler

June 19, 2009 | 8:29 pm

An organization known as “Don’t Buy into Apartheid,” that is part of the “Global BDS Movement,” also known as the “Boycott Divestment Sanctions Campaign,” has declared Saturday, June 20, “World Refugee Day”—calling on the public to boycott all Israeli products sold at Trader Joe’s stores.

Emails calling for a response to the boycott have been circulating virually this week in the Jewish community as well as on Facebook, asking people to patronize the national food chain on Friday and Saturday in defiance of the boycott and in support of the Jewish State.

According to “Don’t Buy” group’s Facebook site, similar boycotts of Israeli products have already taken place in Wales, France, and earlier this month, also targeting Trader Joe’s, in Pittsburgh.

The organization says it aims to “oppose Israeli occupation, apartheid, violence, and land theft and to support equality and justice for all, including the Palestinian people.”

Specifically, the organization is instructing participants to hand out leaflets at Trader Joe’s stores, describing the Israeli products sold at the supermarket, asking cashiers to stop carrying Israeli products, pulling Israeli products from shelves, and damaging Israeli products.

According to Kate Raphael, one of the organizers of the event, the group formed a month ago, “in the tradition of the international campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.” More than 600 participants have signed up, primarily in San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Los Angeles, she said.

In response, the pro-Israel group StandWithUs has written an open letter to Trader Joe’s addressing the campaign, calling the effort “one-sided,” saying that it only encourages and strengthens “extremists who continue to undermine the peace process.” The letter also asks Trader Joe’s, which is a Pasadena-based, privately owned chain, with more than 300 stores in 25 states, to not be “censored by political prejudice but rather offer an array of products that reflect the various tastes of your patrons.”

“We salute you for standing clear of political pressure and maintaining your integrity and neutrality,” the letter concludes.

“Don’t Buy into Apartheid” has not received an official response from Trader Joe’s, but the group has met with local managers at stores who have indicated only that they will pass their message along, according to Raphael. Reached Friday, Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s said the company’s position was “It’s business as usual. We do not use our products as political tools; we sell groceries.”

Raphael says the group decided to target Trader Joe’s in particular because the national chain does not carry any Palestinian products. 

The group’s site notes that they “want to be careful that the tone of our actions does not unnecessarily antagonize or alienate potential supporters, whether customers or store personnel.” Raphael defended the choice of Trader Joe’s, despite the possibility that their popularity might cause a backlash: “I think it’s the Israel government who is quite extreme in its refusal to recognize its obligation under international law.”

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